Three key questions early edtech should address.
GUEST COLUMN | by Rich Yang
There has been dramatic growth, adoption, and innovation in the edtech space. Many educational companies tout digital products like virtual reality, assessments, even entire new digital platforms – all with the promise of revolutionizing learning or “disrupting” the classroom. Yet, if you observe today’s classroom, the vast majority still rely predominantly on pen and paper ‘printables’ as the primary learning tools, while digital technologies remain early in adoption.
In our experience, we see a similar disconnect between the buzz of new digital technologies and the actual behavior of millions of teachers and parents. With over 5 million monthly active users – roughly half teachers and half parents – we see that almost two thirds of our user engagement is on the printable side (e.g. downloadable worksheets) and one third on the digital side (e.g. digital games and flash cards).
Ultimately, what determines a technology’s quality is how it affects learning.
Importantly, consumption of our digital products is growing rapidly. Digital products offer exciting new ways to engage students and create new opportunities for personalization and assessment. Even so, we believe that the focus by some media solely on digital technologies ignores the bigger challenges teachers and parents face to help students build an early foundation for school success.
At the heart of education, children need to develop foundational math and reading skills to succeed in school. Based on our teacher and parent user data, we see that millions of kids struggle with these core skills, and their parents and teachers face fundamental challenges in trying to help them. Interestingly, our data is a proxy for behaviors not only in the classroom but the struggles to learn at home as well. We have found three fundamental questions can help teachers and parents overcome these obstacles.
- What are the most essential or important skills my child needs to learn?
- How can I employ different methods to keep my child engaged?
- Where can I find an educational solution that connects these important skills to the learning needs of the child?
The answer to the first question is incredibly important as it addresses the goal. “These are the concepts or skills my child or student needs to know.” This is the end, whereas everything else is just the means. We believe most of edtech is more focused on the means than the ends. By contrast, we believe content is “king.” Content will always be the means to learning.
Yet, how learning is achieved is important as well. The answers to questions two and three address these means. First, teachers and parents struggle with how to engage their students. In our work, we employ a mix of learning resources, both analog and digital, that allows educators to address learning in many different ways. Different learning types offer more engaging opportunities for the child. People learn in any combination of ways and varying formats, not only keeping things interesting but also engaging more senses simultaneously. Studies have shown that multi-modal learning (learning through various methods and media) allow for more efficient learning and conceptual understanding. It also works toward the development of the whole child, meaning it engages them in various facets like cognitive, creative, and physical activities.
Second, teachers and parents struggle with where they can find what they need. Ask most teachers where they are discovering their learning resources and they most often say Google or Pinterest. Fortunately, there is a new generation of learning resources and platforms that address this need, and we believe there will be dramatic changes to the edtech landscape.
Ultimately, what determines a technology’s quality is how it affects learning. Existing technologies like printables continue to play a critical role in combination with emerging ones. Much like how books continue to be printed, bought, and borrowed despite the proliferation of Kindles and iPads, paper and pencil (and manipulatives, outside playing, etc.) will and should coexist with advancing digital technology. Thus, as part of a community of educators, learners, and businesses that work together to shape children’s futures, we must ensure the focus is always on the learning outcome – the end.
Rich Yang is co-CEO at Education.com, a leading online destination for educators of students pre-K through fifth grade.